Public housing the solution

Government housing policy is the cause of the housing crisis. Homelessness, waiting-lists and extortionate levels of private rent are the symptoms of policy designed to benefit speculators, landlords, and hedge funds—the business class.

The number of homes available to rent has fallen close to a historical record, while rents have increased sharply, just as the economy emerges from the restrictions of the pandemic. According to recent figures from the property web site, at the beginning of February a mere 712 properties were available to rent in Dublin, and 1,400 in the rest of the 26 Counties. This is the lowest since their records began, in 2006.

This comes at the same time that we see a sharp spike in rents throughout Ireland. The lifting of a brief rent freeze during covid lockdowns resulted in an average rent increase of 4 per cent towards the end of last year. At present the average rent in south Co. Dublin is €2,258 per month, and €1,897 in the north. The average rent on Daft in the 26 Counties was €1,524 at the end of 2021—an increase of more than 10 per cent over the year.

The minimum wage remains fixed at €1,774.50 per month, while higher costs of living are emerging alongside the inflation crisis, from energy to consumer goods and everything in between. It raises the question, How much longer will we accept this?

The present system is not broken: it is designed this way. Government, vulture funds and landlords are its chief upholders. Indeed more than a quarter of TDs are landlords themselves!

Government housing policy has allowed Ireland’s gombeen landlord class to do the dirty work, regularly increasing rents and hoarding large swathes of housing stock, and in doing so have laid the ground for vulture funds and cuckoo funds to run riot and assert their dominance over the “housing market.”

Ireland’s largest landlord, Irish Residential Properties PLC (IRES REIT), received €8.7 million in housing assistance payment (HAP) from Dublin City Council in 2021, an increase of €1 million from the previous year. This increase accounted for almost two-thirds of IRES REIT’s increase in rental income.

Cuckoo funds are now outbidding households en masse by a massive amount, which is pushing families even further away from home ownership.

It’s their world: we’re just living in it.

The limitations of meaningful change coming from the chambers of Dáil Éireann or Stormont have been well documented. Well-meaning politicians can bring as many motions as they like to the floors of government buildings, but history shows us that they’ll be met with countless “solutions” from the ruling parties.

They will do everything but solve the crisis. They will do their level best not to interfere in the massive profits being raked in by their business cronies, those whose interests they really serve. It is now clear that the radical change needed to solve the crisis will come not from those in the halls of power but through a disciplined, well-organised people’s movement with clear demands.

The CPI, through history and the recent course of events, has regularly called for a large-scale programme of public housing to solve the crisis. Communities up and down the country have for a number of years seen unaffordable rents and the slashing of services and, in cities and towns, gentrification on a huge scale. Family life has been put under pressure, children unable to move from home or set up families of their own.

A programme of universal public housing, with the full involvement of communities, will serve to democratise housing and remedy the ills that decades of the current system have fomented. It will bring about reduced rents for all, reduce property prices, and force corporate investors out of the country (their significant amount of properties remaining to be added to our public housing stock).

It is now time for the labour movement, tenants’ groups and political organisations to come together and fight for this change. The landlord class know very well how to protect their interests; it’s time we did too. It is for communists to make the case for universal public housing, and make no retreat—as many on the left appear to have done—towards forms of housing that have thus far stunted and sown confusion within the housing movement.

Our demands must be concrete and have the challenging of landlord power at their root. In the short run this will come from rent controls, a total ban on evictions, and an end to the selling off of public land. In the long run it will come from a large-scale public-housing programme, with rents linked to income. It will come from recognising, once and for all, housing as a human right, rather than a commodity to be bought and sold by the highest bidder, by enshrining the right to housing in the constitution.

Many of us will be familiar with the protest chant Housing is a human right—This is why we have to fight. Here’s a new one: Public housing is the solution—Put it in the constitution.